Surge testing in Manchester

Manchester City Council introduced mobile testing units in five locations across the two areas and an asymptomatic rapid testing site at Moss Side Leisure Centre was converted into a PCR testing site.

This is part of a series of case-studies published on the 18 March 2021

Key steps

  • Surge testing carried out in two suburbs via mobile testing and collect-and-drop
  • Home testing offered to those who were vulnerable or shielding
  • Door-knocking teams – led by council neighbourhoods service - went to nearly every home to encourage people to get tested

What was done?

Four cases of the UK variant with the E484 mutation were identified in the south of the city in Moss Side. Surge testing was launched on 8 February covering 10,000 residents in the wards of Moss Side, Hulme, Fallowfield and Whalley Range and finished on 26 February.

A fifth case was later identified in the north of the city and surge testing covering 5,000 residents was launched in Moston and Harpurhey on 17 February and lasted until 3 March.

In total, almost 5,000 tests were carried out in area one and another 2,700 tests in area two. A total of 142 positive cases have been found and the individuals have been informed. Genomic sequencing of these positive test results is now underway and Manchester is yet to discover if there are any additional variants of concern. 

How was it done?

Mobile testing units were introduced in five locations across the two areas and an asymptomatic rapid testing site at Moss Side Leisure Centre was converted into a PCR testing site.

For those who did not want to attend a mobile testing unit, there was a collect-and-drop facility set up so residents could do the tests at home. Although this was predominantly focussed on business and schools in the areas. The leisure centre was used in Moss Side and a local church in Moston and Harpurhey.

Special arrangements were made for those people who were not able to leave their home for testing. All the extremely clinically vulnerable and those in receipt of social care were offered home testing, either through the delivery of testing kits to their door or a nurse-assisted test in their home.

Public Health Director David Regan said: “We worked with adult social care and the community nursing service to identify those who needed extra support. But we did not want to be too bureaucratic so where people were anxious about leaving their home, we offered it to them too. We did not want to put any barriers in the way.

“The response has been really good. The public have really come forward and engaged with it. We were told about the first four cases late on a Friday evening. It wasn’t ideal, but we had to respond and deal with it. By Monday we were ready to go.

“We split area one into six zones and the second area into five and carried out the door knocking exercise one-by-one. We assembled our council neighbourhood teams, and worked with care organisations, the voluntary and community sector, faith leaders and local councillors to do the door knocking. They are the people we have been working with closely throughout the pandemic and so we have good relationships in place. 

“We knocked on nearly every door – I think 98 per cent in the areas – explaining what was happening and where the testing sites were. We left leaflets explaining and encouraging people to get in touch.

“We have committed to telling everyone who tested positive whether the variant has been detected. We asked our communities to help us understand the new variants and we feel we owe it to them to report back.”

What was learnt?

Mr Regan said: “You need to draw on expertise from across the council. For example, when we were trying to decide on the site for the collect-and-drop service, the leisure centre in Moss Side was the obvious choice. But there was nothing like that in area two. 

“It was our neighbourhood and estates leads who we called on – having people who know the assets that are available is vital. They immediately knew the ideal location and were able to speak to the right people. It all happened quickly and you need people who immediately know the solutions to problems.”

While the surge testing exercise went well however, Mr Regan said he would have to think carefully if he was asked to coordinate another round of surge testing. “It is such a huge under-taking. If we were to do it more regularly, we would have to think about how we could make it more sustainable.

“We would probably try to streamline it in some way – maybe define a tighter area so it did not include so many people. After all, you have to think about what you lose by doing it. We had to stop the rapid asymptomatic testing in Moss Side. That is a really important service and we dismantled it for a fortnight. You would not necessarily want to do that again.”

Contact details

David Regan
Director of Public Health 
Manchester City Council